Chad White of the Lexington
The Lexington opened its doors more than 75 years ago on the corner of Grand and Lexington in St Paul. This landmark restaurant serves American comfort food year-round in its heavily wooded, dimly lit dining room (aesthetics not unlike what one might envision in a century-old St. Paul home). Chef Chad White has been with the Lexington for seven years, serving as head chef during the last year and a half.
On the Lexington versus Home:
I would call the food at the restaurant American comfort food, but a step up. You could make it at home, but no one has the time to do what we do, like slow roast a lamb shank. We like to give our patrons “what grandma used to make at home” dishes. I have fun with the specials, but the menu itself is pretty standard and hasn’t evolved much over the years. We did do an overhaul this summer. We took off the items that sold the least and reduced the steak serving sizes. But I’m never going to screw with the walleye, or do anything with the short ribs or the pot roast.
At home I’m pretty anal. I work out a lot and eat really clean. I’ll have a banana and protein shake for breakfast, turkey and peas for lunch, and salmon or tilapia and green beans for dinner. Sometimes I’ll have another protein shake at night. I’m pretty boring. I don’t have butter at home, just olive oil and flaxseed oil. If we had it, I would eat it all the time. It’s a special treat for me when I can have a good butter, like Hope Creamery, on a good piece of white bread. Working out and eating clean help me to maintain my energy level, something I need since I spend so many hours at the restaurant (70 to 80 during the peak season in December).
My wife ends up cooking a lot more than I do. I probably box in and take control, but I try to only help her if she asks. I’m busy bossing people around all day, so I don’t want to go home and boss her around too. When I have the time, I like to experiment with flavors I can’t use at the restaurant. I was never exposed to ethnic foods growing up, but I ended up living in Atlanta and Memphis for awhile, and I discovered a lot of new flavors there. I’m a huge fan of Indian, Asian, and Hispanic flavors. I just made my first pho the other week, with calamari, shrimp, and clams. Also, I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I love meat. I’ll make a lot of sausages at home.
On his drink of choice:
I home brew a lot. I actually start brew school in a few weeks. Right out of high school I moved from northern Minnesota to the Twin Cities. I had the travel bug, so a friend and I headed down to Atlanta with about $500. I think we both thought we were Jack Kerouac. I spent my first month living in a tent and working at a Mexican restaurant. The place had a wall of coolers and more than 350 bottled beers. It was amazing. I was 18 or 19, but they let us drink if we weren’t working. That’s when I discovered there are a lot of beers out there. Not just the crap I drink at keggers.
When I was younger, I would throw 19 or 20 ingredients into a dish. But, I think I’ve learned to simplify from making beer. If a dish is too muddy, you’ll never remember it the next day. You can make a beautiful, clean beer with four ingredients. I’ll make a bunch of lagers in the spring so I can have them in the fall. I do a lot of India Pale Ales in the winter, and we’ll drink those during summer.
On seasonal cooking:
I prefer summer cooking to winter. During the summer I’ll grill a lot. Winter is the busiest season at the restaurant, so I have more time to cook at home once it warms up. I like to experiment with different marinades, make different types of potato salads, coleslaws. But I wouldn’t call the food American. I add Asian influences, or sometimes Indian — I love using curries. I can’t do that at the restaurant, so at home, it’s spice, spice, spice.
I always cook like I’m serving ten people. If it’s just my wife and I, she needs to remind me to slow down. That’s why I like barbecuing during the summer. It’s like cooking at a restaurant: pick up five pounds of meat, have a dozen people over, drink, grill.
High-end American in St. Paul
1096 Grand Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105
CHEF: Chad White
RESERVATIONS/RECOMMENDED?: Yes / Yes during winter weekends
ENTREE RANGE: $15-$75